Thursday, February 27, 2020

Vice: Project Doom Review

Vice: Project Doom (Gun-Dec on Famicom) is one of those games I always passed on at Blockbuster. I used to see it on the shelf and think, “Does this have something to do with Miami Vice?” and “Why is the guy from Big Trouble in Little China airbrushed on the cover?”. Even though the game got enough buzz to be on the cover of Nintendo Power, I paid it no attention because it was an NES game coming out months after the SNES had launched. I was playing Super Castlevania IV and Final Fight by then. But when it showed up on NSO NES, I had to try it, and I was pleasantly surprised.

There’s a reason why this game has a bootleg Kurt Russel on the cover; Vice: Project Doom takes a lot of inspiration from 80s action movies. The first level starts with a top-town car chase, then you run across a construction site in front of the Hudson River with New York City in the background, fight a mutant rat man boss, and end up in Chinatown for Level 2. So we just went from Spy-Hunter, to Escape from New York, and ended up in Big Trouble in Little China. The whole game is like that, and frankly, I don’t mind. That’s a big part of Vice: Project Doom’s charm. Everything about it feels like an homage to an 80s action movie or videogame.

Perhaps the most obvious homage is the story cutscenes. Apparently, the developers at Aicom were big fans of Ninja Gaiden and Snatcher. One of the first cutscenes faithfully recreates the "Who's there" scene from Ninja Gaiden by having someone sneak up on you from the shadows. Hart also does the Gillian Seed (Snatcher) gun aiming pose multiple times during the game. I've never played Snatcher, but even I recognized the pose.

At its core, Vice: Project Doom is a Ninja Gaiden clone. The locales, crazed Ninjas, and annoying birds are all present here. Most of the game is fast-paced, side scrolling action platforming. There are a couple of other level types that keep things fresh, though. There's top-down Spy-Hunter-esque car driving shoot-em up levels, and Operation Wolf style shooting levels. Even though the shooting levels look like a light gun game, you control the cursor with a controller. No Zapper required! I’ve seen a few other NES games do this, like Bayou Billy, but I think it's done much better here. Both the driving and shooting levels are pretty fun, and they’re over quickly, so they’re not a big deal if you don’t like them, like Bayou Billy’s.

Vice: Project Doom's gameplay borrows heavily from Ninja Gaiden and Castlevania, but it's not nearly as punishing as those games were on the NES. Vice: Project Doom has frequent checkpoints, unlimited continues, bosses with easy to learn patterns, and you can always get a health refilling piece of meat before a boss. You don't even have to break a wall for it. Vice Project Doom's controls are also much more fluid than either Ninja Gaiden or Castlevania's. There is a healthy amount of knockback here, but Hart's jumps are much floatier, he has a lot of air control, you don't have to press anything to grab on to ladders in midair, and your laser whip attacks cover about a 180 degree arc around you. You can hit enemies coming from above or below you with a normal attack. Neither Hayabusa or Belmont can do that. Quinn can also run at full speed while ducking, like how people in movies run from cover to cover during shootouts. I wonder if this inspired Gears' roadie run. I love this mechanic. It's so much more fun than just ducking and staying still until enemy attacks end.

Quinn also gets a couple of subweapons, a gun, and some grenades. These feel very situational, though. I only used them to kill enemies standing close to a ledge. The gun has a longer range than your laser whip, but it's not as far as you'd expect from a gun. Your bullets are also pretty limited since they're randomly dropped by enemies. The grenade's range is much longer, but they travel in a downward arc, so you still can't hit someone all the way across the screen with them, and they're even more limited than the gun's ammo.

The music in Vice: Project Doom really isn't anything special. It's mostly very generic and repetitive chiptune rock with some pretty annoying sounds in it. I think I heard a fire alarm and a deflating balloon in there. It's not anywhere near Ninja Gaiden quality. The graphics are pretty nice, though. Vice: Project Doom has a dark and gritty style that reminds me of NES games like Batman and Shatterhand. I like how it uses 2 or 3 shades of a color to texture objects and shades them with dark blacks that blend into the background. The game does have a bit of slowdown every now and then, but nothing too bad. Overall, I think this is a pretty nice looking NES game.

This game gets a thumbs up from me. It definitely exceeded my expectations. How can a game with an airbrushed bootleg Kurt Russel on the cover possibly be any good, right? Well, don't judge an NES game by its box art. The music isn't great, but the gameplay is fun, the graphics are pretty nice for an NES game, and the story and cutscenes are crazy and over the top, just like the 80s action movies it pays homage to. If you're into NES action games, like Ninja Gaiden, you'll probably like this, too.